Streaming Out of Samford

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.2, February 2005,

This season, fans of Samford University’s baseball team can see every ball and strike of the team’s home games, even if they can’t make the trip to Birmingham, Ala. to attend the contests. All of the team’s home games, as well as most football, women’s soccer, volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball home games, are available via the Internet on a pay-per-view basis. It adds up to one of the most extensive webcast offerings in college sports.

The benefits of offering sporting events over the Web are manifold, according to Justin Firesheets, Director of Broadcast Operations at Samford. “Our coaches have found that one of the biggest benefits is in recruiting,” he says. “Let’s say we’ve got a kid from Colorado who might want to play here, but he’s not sure it’s the right choice because it’s 800 miles from home—this might help seal the deal for him because mom and dad know that they can still watch him play. Maybe having that expanded recruiting appeal helps push the program to another level. We’ve seen this help bring kids in for several sports.”

“Samford has a lot of bigger Conference USA and Southeastern Conference schools nearby, and doing webcasts put us on a more level playing field with them in terms of letting friends and family of the players follow the team,” says Tim Parenton, former Head Baseball Coach at Samford and now an Assistant Coach at the University of Florida. “Our kids really liked it because it gave them a little bit of the exposure you’d expect at bigger schools.”

Prospects can check out a home event before they make a campus visit. Samford coaches can tell interested high school athletes to go online and watch their Bulldog team compete, and while not the same as being there in person, it can be a valuable foot in the door for the program. “A player can see what our atmosphere is like, plus they see that we give exposure and publicity to our teams,” Firesheets says.

Viewers pay between $6 and $10 per event, and special rates are available for individual team or all-sport season passes. And while parents and friends of Samford athletes make up most of the audience, the athletic department reaches out to opposing teams’ fans as well. At the start of the season, opponents receive information to distribute in press releases and among players, and Firesheets says the service is especially popular with fans of teams from long distances away.

The behind-the-scenes work involved in webcasting is minimal once the initial set-up is complete. No production room is needed because there is typically only one camera, and play-by-play audio is provided by Firesheets or by feeding in the local radio broadcast when available. Samford partners with Maxvu Sports Broadcasting Network to stream the broadcasts over the Web, and Maxvu receives a share of the revenue collected from viewers. The athletic department’s only regular expense is what it pays the student workers who set up and run the camera.

Firesheets finds that players and coaches aren’t the only ones enthused about the opportunity for exposure via this new medium—it’s appealing to advertisers, too. “We’ve noticed a lot of the companies want to be involved just because it’s something new and different,” he says. “They are not going to reach thousands of people, but they like being able to say they’re part of helping this new medium become mainstream. And our athletic department feels the same way—we’re really proud to be on the leading edge of this new technology.”